The Kentucky Derby’s Morning Line Favorites and the Odds of Success

As the iconic Kentucky Derby draws near, anticipation surges among racing enthusiasts and bettors alike. The Kentucky Derby stands out as one of the most prestigious and anticipated events of the year, and the allure of the Derby lies not only in its rich traditions and vibrant atmosphere but also in the unpredictability that characterizes the "Run for the Roses." One aspect of this unpredictability lies in the performance of pre-race favorites, which often deviates from expectations. As the first jewel in the Triple Crown series, the race captures the attention of millions of fans around the world. 

Delving into the history of the Derby since the turn of the millennium, we noticed something interesting, but before we get into it, check out our section on the Kentucky Derby Odds, and don't forget to use our exclusive BetMGM bonus code if you want to place a bet on the Kentucky Derby or other sporting events in the future.

In the 24 editions of the race since 2000, the morning line favorite has only emerged victorious on seven occasions, marking a modest success rate of 29%. This statistic highlights the unpredictable nature of the race and the fact that anything can happen on race day.  The last time the morning line favorite triumphed at Churchill Downs was in 2018, when Justify, with morning line odds of +300, crossed the finish line first. For this research, we've converted all odds of previous winners and favorites to moneyline odds.

However, the Derby's history is also punctuated by instances where the favored contender failed to grace the track. Twice since 2000 has the morning line favorite been scratched and subsequently withdrawn from the race, notably in 2009 and 2019. 

For those favorites who do make it to the starting gate, their performance often falls short of the lofty expectations bestowed upon them. Since 2000, the morning line favorite has, on average, finished in 3.4th place, showing that even when favored, horses can still face tough competition and challenges on race day.

Examining the betting landscape further, the average odds of the morning line favorite have been +265 since the turn of the millennium. In contrast, the average morning line odds of the Kentucky Derby winner have stood at a much higher +1496 underlining the likelihood of unexpected outcomes in this prestigious race.

Below is a list of all previous winners and favorites of the Kentucky Derby since the turn of the century:

YearWinnerMorning Line Odds of WinnerMorning Line FavoriteMorning Line Odds of Favorite
2000Fusaichi Pegasus+200Fusaichi Pegasus+180
2001Monarchos+600Point Given+180
2002War Emblem+2000Harlan's Holiday+450
2003Funny Cide+5000Empire Maker+120
2004Smarty Jones+450The Cliff's Edge+400
2005Giacomo+5000Bellamy Road+250
2006Barbaro+510Brother Derek+300
2007Street Sense+390Curlin+350
2008Big Brown+300Big Brown+300
2009Mine That Bird+5000I Want Revenge+300
2010Super Saver+800Lookin At Lucky+300
2011Animal Kingdom+3000Dailed In+400
2012I'll Have Another+1200Bodemeister+400
2014California Chrome+250California Chrome+250
2015American Pharoah+250American Pharoah+250
2017Always Dreaming+500Classic Empire+450
2019Country House+3000Omaha Beach+400
2020Authentic+800Tiz the Law-167
2021Mandaloun+1200Essential Quality+200
2022Rich Strike+3000Zandon+300
2023Mage+1500Tapit Trice+500

Looking at the current odds you can get on this year's Kentucky Derby, Forte, Practical Move, and Tapit Trice emerge as the three favorites. But if you believe that history tends to repeat itself, you might want to consider going for the "all other three-year-olds" option with the bookies. At the time of this research (April 18), this option is pretty much on par with the odds of the average winners since the turn of the century, currently at +1500.

As we gear up for the next running of the Kentucky Derby, it's clear that being the morning line favorite does not guarantee victory. With the history of the race showing that surprises are always possible, fans can look forward to another thrilling and unpredictable edition of the "Run for the Roses". Will the trend of underdogs outperforming the favorites continue, or will we see a break in the pattern with a favorite coming out on top once again? Only time will tell.